R.I.P.: A Toast to the Restaurants We'll Miss Most

Categories: Restaurant News

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Houston lost quite a few restaurants this year, but we were lucky to have many more open in their place. Stay tuned for next week's year-long wrap-up of every single opening and closing in town (it's a doozy, folks) to compare the lists for yourself.

Until then, though, these are the restaurants that closed in 2011 that we'll miss the most.

Catalan

When chef Chris Shepherd announced that he was leaving his post at Catalan -- which had become one of the most celebrated restaurants in the city under his leadership -- owners Grant Cooper and Charles Clark knew that they couldn't keep Catalan open without him. (Or without Shepherd's crew, like sous chef Antoine Ware, many of whom departed with their chef.) So they closed the restaurant, eventually reopening it as Coppa, with brand new chef Brandi Key and a whole new theme. While we adore Coppa, we're also eagerly awaiting Catalan's reincarnation of sorts when Shepherd's Third Coast, charcuterie-driven joint Underbelly opens next year.

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Photo by Matthew Dresden
This beautiful tai ceviche from Voice is now a thing of the past.
Voice

Before it closed in August, Voice was one of the best restaurants in town -- and certainly one of the very best downtown -- but flew maddeningly under the radar, despite the many talents of chef Greg Lowry and his team. Lowry will be the sous chef at the soon-to-open Triniti under Ryan Hildebrand, so at least he's stuck around. And Voice is currently undergoing a rebranding to become Line & Lariat, serving a far less modern and far more accessible menu of Texas favorites under chef David Luna. It could have been worse; the Hotel Icon could have lost its restaurant altogether, and then there'd be nothing to showcase the utterly gorgeous, gilded two-story dining room -- and that would be the biggest crime of all.

Bootsie's

It was a shock to many in the food community when Bootsie's closed in late July. It seemed as if the homespun little house in Tomball had become the perfect setting for chef Randy Rucker's modern interpretations of Gulf Coast cuisine and native ingredients. The restaurant has since reopened under namesake Bootsie herself (Rucker's mother), serving a different, far more casual menu. And Rucker is set to reboot Bootsie's when his new place with pastry chef Chris Leung, Restaurant conāt, opens next year.

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I still dream about this guacamole. No lie.
Yelapa

Another big loss to Houston's fledgling modern cuisine movement, Yelapa Playa Mexicana specialized in updated interpretations of coastal Mexican food that often -- unfortunately -- flew right over many a diner's head. In the land of Tex-Mex, a strikingly Latin American ceviche or a thoughtfully deconstructed guacamole is often woefully unappreciated, despite many a review and write-up testifying to the restaurant's greatness. Yelapa cycled through two talented and now-vanished chefs before attempting to add more standard Tex-Mex elements to the menu as a last-ditch effort to capture the public's interest. In October, it shut its doors as an unfortunate illustration of the fact that critical darlings aren't always public favorites.

Antone's in the Village

Many longtime Houstonians were furious when Antone's in the Village closed in August. Reasons behind the closure were legion -- everything from rising rent costs in the area to the fact that the quality had decreased ten-fold over the years after the Antone's family broke apart -- but much of the blame ended up pushed onto its next door neighbor, the successful benjy's. In a few months, benjy's had opened a new spot in the old Antone's location: Local Foods. And while we loved Antone's back in the day, we have to admit that Local Foods and its excellent sandwiches seem to be a better replacement so far.


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Clumsy Plumsy
Clumsy Plumsy

I will definitely miss Yelapa (particularly its early, LJ Wiley days), and Shilcutt's write-up has it pegged just right. The seafood was sparkling fresh and LJ's composed dishes were often spectacular (arguably the best ceviches in town, and the "real" guacamole was a contender for best vegetable dish as well imho). I was lucky to sample short-lived seasonal dishes like a memorable Mexican marigold carrot gazpacho and grilled scallops "inka" with black garlic. There were also plenty others that didn't work, like gulf fish with an eggplant puree that never jived - but the best dishes were usually those that swung for the fences.

It was far from perfect - entrees could be hit-or-miss and it's hard to understand how a kitchen that otherwise handled seafood so well could muck up a campechana so badly (derailed by its overpowering, ketchup-y sauce). Their tacos ranged from sometimes decent (steak w/ghost pepper aioli) to often disappointing (dry pork al pastor, sour/off-tasting duck w/ mole), never justifying the price. I don't know about "packaged tortillas"... maybe they were made off-site, but they definitely weren't the store bought kind.

Yelapa did constantly wrestle with its identity and audience: often I overheard customers complaining "why don't they serve chips and salsa?" and struggling to find a familiar face on the menu before settling on plain ol' quesadillas or enchiladas. There's nothing wrong with Tex-Mex, but that glove never fit Yelapa. I witnessed the menu stretch and grow cluttered as "crowd-pleasers" like queso, chicken wings, nachos, and the like were piled on (and I believe they did eventually switch to chips and salsa instead of the original, perfect bowl of spicy mixed nuts and chicharrones).

I agree with the "bad parking" comment but more than that, it was just a bad location - period. The "bad service" charge is ridiculous, it was above and beyond for us every time (perhaps due to the time of day we ate there, granted). I rarely visited post-Wiley (but from what I did see, Brandon Fisch did as admirable a job as possible given the situation) and didn't eat there at all during its waning days; if there was a drop-off in quality, I can't vouch for it. But to me, Yelapa at its best was more than worth the occasional disappointment. Thanks for the great meals!

P.S. Also sorry to hear about Baffoni and Sapori, but not surprised. Zero buzz and the out-of-the-way location hurt it, plus combined with the steep prices... Still, I do hope he gets back on his feet and back in the kitchen soon.

trisch
trisch

Coco's? I had the single worst, miserable meal I've ever had there. Including meals that gave me food poisoning. Definitely will not be missing it.

Brandon
Brandon

Yelapa never used packaged tortillas ... And I never knew that I "vanished"

ec
ec

When the owner admitted it to us when asked.

ec
ec

Catalan and Yelapa are no loss.  Never had a good meal at either.  Catalan was always salty to me.  After 2 times, that was enough for me.  Yelapa was just plain bad.  When food critics hailed the restaurant for its use of fresh ingredients I had to try it.  Unforunately, one food critic didn't know the difference between a packaged tortilla and a homemade one. 

Cocobutter
Cocobutter

China View. My fav Chinese restaurant.

Wuwu
Wuwu

Yelapa sucked, no other way to say it.  To justify that "it was different and people wanted it...." is plain insane.  Poor service, terrible parking and average food is not "what people want.." Cafe Bello just goes to show you  that if you have a big name and a big reputation in town there are no for sures you can venture away from what made that name and do something very different to what people associate your name with.  With all this said my hat goes off to the restaurant folks who do open and make it, it's a very tough town to comepte in.  Happpy holidays, from the Wu.

james
james

I have to agree about Yelapa. To imply that we diners just didn't get its greatness is absurd. The food just wasn't good enough or consistent enough to last in this town. Great idea, loved the building, but quality wasn't there.

H_e_x
H_e_x

So many people wanted Yelapa to happen, but it just never caught on. I wasn't much of a fan, and their guacamole wasn't anything to write home about, but it had its fans. It was kind of like "fetch", no matter how hard some tried to make it happen, no one really cared if it caught on.

Corey
Corey

RIP Antones, Coco's, Catalan, and dear Katharine thanks a million for diminishing the reverence for my beloved Antones with a bunch of excuses, platitudes, and horse $hit about Benjy's EVER being a better replacement, total nonsense. But agreed they will be missed, especially Mama-san...

spacewine
spacewine

King Biscuit was asking to close. It wasn't just the terrible (not bad... terrible) food, but the Margarita machine was constantly broken and the surly staff had crossed over the threshold to being just plain assholes, unless of course you were one of their friends...then they'd let you smoke inside! It's a great location and I look forward to the next eatery in it's place...Tex Mex I hope.

mollusk
mollusk

Towards the end (i.e., the last couple years), the Biscuit's food hoped to be merely terrible.  I got to where I was literally afraid to eat there.  As far as the staff, it wasn't that you had to be friends, you had to be friends with whoever was working your particular section.  Being a several time a week regular since the Toucan's days was of no aid whatsoever.

Lauren
Lauren

It’s always sad to see local businesses close, and I enjoyedmany of these restaurants. Fortunately, many of the chefs seem to be staying intown, and many of the spaces are reopening under different guises.

 

I will admit I was less than surprised by the closing ofYelapa and Café Bello. I love Coastal Mexican, but Yelapa was plaguedby service problems and inconsistencies in the kitchen. One dish would beamazing, the next terrible. With so many restaurants to choose from,Houstonians expect reliability along with the flashes of genius. As for Café Bello,the food was good, but the prices were high and the portions tiny. When I wentfor brunch, I paid $18 for an omelet that came without sides. Bread and hash browns were an extra $6 each. The food wasn't **that** good, and my husband had to pick up a crepe at Melange across the street to tide him over.

johnk.
johnk.

Dear Mr. Baffoni,

Rice Village needs a great Italian restaurant.

Scott Lynch
Scott Lynch

Strictly based on proximity to work, El Rey on Main Street is probably the one I'll miss the most. Though ERA is probably a close second in that regard.

Corey
Corey

Scott- agreed 100%.

Susanterrywilhelm
Susanterrywilhelm

So sad about Alberto and Sapori.  This is the one that I will miss the most!

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